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Keeping dogs cool can in the summer can be a challenge, but it is not impossible.
In this post, you will learn why we need to keep our dogs cool and how to cool a dog down in the heat of summer with 5 fun activities your dog will love!
Heat Stroke in Dogs
An 18-month-old female Cane Corso in Ohio was taken for a walk on a warm (85 degrees) summer day. One minute she was fine. The next she collapsed. She was rushed to the owner’s home by animal control, seizing, and barely conscious. Despite the efforts of her loved ones, this poor beautiful dog passed away from heatstroke.
Was this dog’s death preventable? I believe it was.
Have you ever walked outside in the summer and exclaimed to yourself or to a family member, “it is hot out here!”
I live in Arizona where every day in the summer is hot. Very hot. The surface of the sun hot.
If you answered yes, consider how your dog must feel.
What is Heat Stroke in Dogs?
According to DVM360 online, heat stroke in dogs is defined this way:
“Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition characterized by an elevated core body temperature and central nervous system dysfunction. Despite aggressive lowering of core body temperature and treatment, the pathophysiologic changes associated with heat stroke can lead to multi-organ dysfunction, which can be fatal.”
It is further defined as an elevated core body temperature of > 105.8ºF in dogs which is accompanied by central nervous system and multi-organ dysfunction which can be fatal.
The incidence of heat stroke in dogs is not well defined, however, this is a condition that is both prevalent and recognized as a major issue in dogs, especially those that live in hot and humid environments.
The initial challenge when a dog overheats, as in the case of the Cane Corso, is that heatstroke can happen suddenly and the signs are not always obvious if you aren’t paying attention.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke in Dogs
Some of the symptoms of heatstroke in dogs include the following:
- excessive thirst
- thick saliva
- restlessness and signs of discomfort
- rapid heartbeat
- vomiting or diarrhea
- lethargy (being unwilling or unable to move)
How Do Dogs Cool Themselves Down Naturally
In general, dogs are not good at keeping themselves cool or cooling themselves down when they get too hot.
According to DVM360, approximately 70 percent of the total body heat loss in dogs and cats is due to radiation (transfer of heat between the dog and the environment) and convection (movement of air carrying the heat away) from the body surface.
And as environmental temperatures increase, evaporative cooling (loss of water to the environment to cool the skin surface) becomes much more important.
With the exception of panting and dissipating a small amount of heat through the pads of their feet, dogs depend on us to keep them cool in the summer and make decisions about the heat that will keep them safe.
How Hot is Too Hot for Dogs?
What many dog owners don’t realize is that the air temperature is NOT an accurate reflection of ground temperature at all!
Asphalt and other ground surfaces retain heat and this temperature rises exponentially as heat and sun exposure continues.
This infographic is a great illustration summarizing a study that was done in 1970 by James J. Berens, MD and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
This study involved accident victims who sustained burns on their skin from the highway pavement at surprisingly low temperatures in summer climates. And the temperature correlations shown here are based on asphalt that was in direct sun with little wind and low humidity.
Asphalt soaks up the heat all day and can only cool down at a certain rate and only when the sun retreats. So pavement that was deemed safe for a walk at 9 AM may differ greatly at lunchtime and early evening.
And if you live in Arizona, keeping a dog cool outside in the summer is a pipe dream.
Unless global cooling takes over the sunny southwest, there is NOT a good time to walk your dog outside. Period.
So, if you are someone who is in the habit of succumbing to those big brown eyes begging for his daily walk around the neighborhood, consider these cooler alternatives in order to keep your big dog cool and safe this summer.
Cooling Your Dog Down – What to do if Your Dog is Overheating
If you suspect your dog is overheating or having heat stroke, the first thing you need to do is get him or her somewhere where it is cool. That may sound obvious, but it’s a critical step that sometimes gets missed as treatment is given.
Remember what I said above about how a dog cools himself through radiation and convection. For these to work to the dog’s benefit, the air around the dog needs to be cool.
Second, offer small amounts of water (too much and your dog may vomit which can worsen dehydration) and assess his condition. Know the signs of dog dehydration before you need them.
Is he able to walk? Is he able to stand and pant? If your dog is not responsive, seizing or otherwise unable to stand or move, you need to seek veterinary care immediately.
And if you are able to take his temperature, that can be very helpful. Temperatures above 104ºF are dangerous. And the gap between danger and death is a narrow one, unfortunately.
Begin to cool your dog down with a cool, wet rag, water, hose, or any other source of water. Keep in mind, this should be cool, NOT cold.
Focus on cooling your dog’s head, neck, and armpit areas under the front and back legs. If you can, put a fan on your dog as well. This will speed up the dissipation of the heat from his body.
Dr. Karen Becker, DVM also recommends,
“Carefully cool the tongue if possible, but don’t let water run into the throat as it could get into the lungs. Never put water in the mouth of a dog that can’t swallow on his own.”
To summarize and make this very clear, the following are 10 things you can do to prevent heatstroke and cool your dog down if you suspect he/she is overheating:
10 Steps to Prevent and Treat Heatstroke in Dogs
- Follow the 10-Second Rule – Take your shoes off and stand on the pavement for at least 10 seconds in the sun. If it is too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog. Do NOT walk!
- Bring plenty of water on walks and during outdoor activities.
- Spend more time in the shade than in the sun.
- Consider getting your dog a cooling vest to wear or a cooling mat to lay on.
- Get to a cool location (shade at the very least) fast if you suspect your dog is overheating.
- Take your dog’s temperature if possible.
- Offer small amounts of water to prevent vomiting and dehydration.
- Put a fan on your dog to further dissipate the heat.
- Apply cool water (not cold) to your dog’s head, neck, and armpits.
- Seek veterinary care immediately.
Fun Activities That Will Keep Your Dog Cool in the Summer
1. Cool Dogs with Swimming And Water Games
Swimming is one of the single best activities to do with your big dog that will keep him cool in the summer.
In addition to keeping your dog cool, swimming helps strengthen muscles, keeps ligaments and tendons flexible, prevents obesity and increases circulation.
And, especially important for us big dog owners, swimming is a low impact activity. This is because the water supports much of your dog’s body weight and inhibits sudden excessive movements which can cause injury.
For older dogs or dogs with arthritis or sore stiff muscles, this is an ideal setting in which to strengthen muscles and exercise in a gentle setting.
In the near future, I will share some tips on how to teach your dog to swim. I am not an expert, but I have learned a few force-free tricks over the years that have enabled me to share my love of swimming with my big dogs.
For now, here a few of our must-haves around the pool for fun and safety.
And if you don’t have access to a pool, I would highly recommend getting an inexpensive baby pool like the ones that are commonly sold outside grocery stores, Walmart and Costco.
2. Visit Dog-Friendly Stores And Restaurants
It is not just air conditioning you are after with this one. Socialization is important for ALL dogs, during ALL stages of their lives.
However, if you have a puppy, be sure to read A Bomb Proof Big Dog Starts With Puppy Socialization [Today!]. In there, I provide some fantastic tips and additional ideas on ways to socialize your puppy.
There are many retail stores that allow friendly, well-behaved dogs.
The following is a short list of our local favorites, but I would love to hear from you. Do you have any pet-friendly stores you like to take your big dog to?
- Half-Price Books
- Pet Food Depot
- Home Depot
- Pet Club
- OHSO Brewery
3. Stimulate Mind and Body with Indoor Games
Sulley and Junior love to play!
If I go to the toy basket, grab a ball, and head into the living room you can visibly see their eyes light up.
I try to vary the games I play with them in order to keep them guessing and having fun. One day we will play fetch and retrieve and the next we will play catch the ball in the air.
When we play indoor games I like to mix in a little obedience too.
For example, “sit,” then “down,” then “stand,” and “catch!” Or I will stand still and when I get eye contact (instead of clicking) I will toss the ball or toy. As I said, I try to mix it up.
Here are some other fun ideas of activities you can do with your big dog indoors:
Hide and Seek – I usually will have them “stay” then I go hide and call them to “find momma”
Tug of War – I often use a game of tug as a reward for other behaviors
Find “name of person” or “name of toy”
Cut nails – Yes, I include this in my list of indoor games because my dogs love getting their nails cut!
To learn more, read:
cutting dog nails
4. Pick Up a New Sport Like Nose Work to Keep Your Dog Cool
Nose work is a sport you can start to do with your dog at home even before taking a formal class. And it is something you can do every day with your dog that will keep him cool in the summer.
I started doing nose work with Junior a couple of months ago and we absolutely love it! You can read our story in Nose Work Is Not Just For Bloodhounds And German Shepherds. In that post, I provide numerous resources to get you started as well as several videos showing Junior and me in action.
Nose work provides intellectual stimulation like a few other dog sports.
It requires the dog to rely entirely on one of his most powerful senses… his nose.
And, while you wouldn’t think so by watching them, they are burning lots of physical energy as well which results in a more content pup.
Lastly, nose work allows you to create a stronger bond with your dog as you learn to observe, understand, and rely upon him. What an awesome partnership you will be building with your dog!
5. Invite a Friend Over to Play
Playdates are not just for children. My friends jokingly call my home “Stephanie’s Doggie Day Care” because I truly have opened up my home to my friends’ dogs.
When you have your friend’s dog over to your house or vice versa, not only are both dogs getting much-needed socialization and exercise, but you are too.
Part of being raised to be a bomb-proof big dog includes going to new places, meeting new people, and kindly greeting new dogs. These are all accomplished during a doggie play date.
And, bonus, you don’t need to be in the hot sun to do it.
While he will be actively playing inside, you will be safely preventing your dog from overheating in the hot summer sun outside.
Put an End to Heat Stroke in Dogs
It absolutely breaks my heart to see and hear of dogs like the Cane Corso overheating in such a tragic and precipitous way.
I do believe her death was preventable.
But it does no good to sit here and judge her owner for what they should have known or should have done differently.
They have learned a heartbreaking lesson with the sudden heat-related death of their beautiful young dog.
While there are no statistics on how many dogs die every year from heatstroke because most go unreported, the number is too high.
Because even one death is too many when many of these can be prevented.
Don’t allow one more dog owner to say “I didn’t know,” “It didn’t feel that hot to me,” or “I didn’t think…”
This summer should be an opportunity to create memories with your dog, not memorials.
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